Robbie Neilson’s tenure as Hearts manager has come to an end after the Tynecastle hierarchy decided to part ways on Sunday.
The 42-year-old returned to the club in June 2020, having held the No.3 position between May 2014 and November 2016. Gorg’s side were 10 points clear of Aberdeen this time at the start of the year, but five defeats have seen them crash out of the Scottish Cup and drop to 4th in the Premiership. The potential prize money from finishing best of the rest is staggering, with a lucrative Europa League play-off on the horizon and the failure of guaranteed group stage football in the Conference Europa League, and could have been a factor in the Hearts board’s decision.
With two games to go before the league split, it remains to be seen what path Hearts sporting director Joe Savage and chairman Anne Budge will take as they look to be potential successors. Will they go for someone like St Mirren manager Steven Robinson who has experience in the division? Will they be recruiting from within or have they decided to scout further afield in hopes of bringing a big name to the capital?
Record sports is looking at some candidates to replace Nilsson.
Steven Robinson (St Mirren)
Robinson has St Mirren for the top six and Europe is firmly in their sights. He made it difficult for his friends to beat and if he had Tynecastle’s senior figures in mind, his trial couldn’t have gone much better with Curtis Mayne and Alex Gogic making sure St Mirren ended Neilson’s Hearts tenure with a 2-0 win on Saturday. .
Robinson previously managed Motherwell before a brief spell in England with Morecambe and could be tempted by the challenge of managing one of Scotland’s top clubs. Especially considering his knack for finding talented players on the cheap.
Lee McCulloch (Hearts assistant)
McCulloch became Hearts’ first-team manager in August 2020 after getting a taste of management during his time at Kilmarnock a few years ago. The club’s statement announcing Nilsson’s departure failed to mention the future of his backroom team, and Hearts could follow the fate of Aberdeen and Motherwell by appointing someone already at the club as his successor.
Kevin Muscat (Yokohama Marines)
Mukat emulated Ange Postecoglou’s success by winning the J-League last season and is expected to work his way into management in Europe. Hearts have an abundance of Australian talent, so the Aussie could be a perfect fit to complement the squad at their disposal. On-loan striker Garang Kuol rarely saw Nilsson while the squad often didn’t play to Cammy Devlin’s strengths, but Muscat could be the man to get the best out of the Tynecastle Aussie A-listers while his knowledge ball could bring an interesting dynamic to games against the Parkhead giants.
Frankie McAvoy (Director of Hearts Academy)
McAvoy switched from Preston North End to Hearts last February and is no stranger to Scottish football, having coached Hamilton under Alex Neil and also had a stint at Dunfermline. If the Jumbos decide an interim shortstop is best, the 55-year-old McAvoy could be a contender.
Neil McFarlane (Brentford B)
McFarlane is currently manager of Brentford’s ‘B’ team and is highly regarded as someone who could progress into first-team management. The 45-year-old played for Hearts for four years between 2002 and 2006, and that link could help bring him back into senior management. At 45, he is one of the younger options and his only previous top job experience was at Kidderminster Harriers.
Ian Holloway (free agent)
The former Blackpool and Queen’s Park Rangers boss held talks with Motherwell after Stephen Hamel was sacked in February. Interim manager Stuart Kettlewell was eventually appointed permanently, but the fact that Holloway was shortlisted and seemingly open to the possibility may have interested the Hearts board. Holloway has experience working on tight budgets and knows how to get the best out of teams.
Paul Lambert (free agent)
Lambert’s name seems to be bandied about whenever there is a vacancy in Scotland’s top flight, but his last role north of the border was at Livingstone back in 2006. Has been out of work since leaving Ipswich Town in 2021, although he is reported to be keen on a return to the track. He didn’t love the Motherwell job, but could Hearts and the prospect of managing in Europe be just the ticket?
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